Charges upgraded against undercover cop in motorcycle assault case

Carolina Leid reports from Lower Manhattan.
October 9, 2013 8:22:36 PM PDT
An off-duty undercover New York City police detective appeared in court on Wednesday to face upgraded charges of 1st degree assault and gang assault in connection with the brutal attack on SUV driver Alexian Lien on the Henry Hudson Parkway.

Undercover narcotics officer Wojciech Braszczok was arrested Tuesday night after investigators found video showing Braszczok punching the rear window of the SUV.

In court on Wednesday afternoon, prosecutors argued that he was an active participant in "terrorizing the family," breaking the rear window of Range Rover and kicking the rear passenger door where toddler was sitting. He didn't call 9-1-1 and failed to tell superiors for two days, prosecutors said.

Officials say the officer initially told investigators that he came upon the scene as the beating was ending, but sources say his story began to unravel when the NYPD acquired the new video, which has yet to be released to the public.

Braszczok's attorney says he's been overcharged, and argued Braszczok was 12 feet from the victim and never attacked.

"This particular video in question exonerates my client, it is an absolute overcharge," said John Arlia, Braszczok's attorney, "The SUV's back window already had a 'gaping, softball-sized hole' in it."

Braszczok was releasedd after posting $150,000 bond set by the judge.

The detective was stripped of his gun and badge after internal affairs detectives discovered he was present for at least part of the melee during a periodic motorcycle rally. Police say it was touched off when a motorcyclist and Lien's SUV bumped. Video captured at the scene shows riders swarming around the SUV before the driver takes off, crushing a rider beneath the car. Biker Edwin Mieses, Jr. broke his legs and suffered spine injuries that his family has said will leave him paralyzed.

The detective initially told authorities and his union that he left without intervening, in part because of his role as an undercover. Such officers rarely blow cover to intervene.

But investigators discovered video evidence showing Braszczok punching an already damaged back window, then twice kicking the side of the SUV before leaving the scene, according to two people familiar with the case.

"This detective valiantly served, but secretly, as an undercover officer with the intelligence division of the NYPD, infiltrating groups that were targeted by law enforcement agencies. He did so valiantly. That's one fact that's going to come to surface throughout this case, when the dust settles. The second fact is the video will exonerate our client. The video depicts, and I defy the prosecution to say otherwise, that my client, our client, at no point was anywhere near Mr. Lien," Arlia said.

The arrest added to the complexities of the Sept. 29 episode, which authorities say began with a reckless motorcycle group ride. Ultimately, one motorcyclist was run over, and the SUV driver was dragged from behind the wheel and beaten on a street.

Lien's wife has said he fled to protect her and their 2-year-old daughter. Lien hasn't been charged with any crime.

Another suspect surrendered to authorities this afternoon. He was identified as 31-year-old James Shawn Kuehne. No immediate word on the specific charges against him, but Kuehne is the 7th person charged in the case. Investigators are still looking for at least 3 more people.

The investigation is already in its second week. The District Attorney's Office says it is scrutinizing all the evidence to build the strongest possible cases to hold those responsible accountable.

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